Music and theatre have always been closely associated. You might not always be aware of it when you visit a theatre, but it is often created live by a team of largely unseen musicians. The RSC, after its formation, insisted on having live music for its shows, and many distinguished composers have written music for the company and its predecessors at the theatres in Stratford. For many years, Guy Woolfenden masterminded the Company’s music, over the years achieving the distinction of having written music for all of Shakespeare’s plays. Before its transformation, the main theatre’s bandbox was above and behind the main theatre, its only communication with the stage being by closed circuit TV and headphones.
Members of the band did occasionally appear onstage, having to dress in costume for parades or the playing of an instrument on stage. But nowadays its more common to see the musicians, as for instance you do in The Two Gentlemen of Verona where they are positioned to each side of the stage at first gallery level.
Among the blogs which now form part of the RSC’s website is one I’ve only recently spotted, Music Notes written by Richard Sandland, the theatre’s Music Operations Manager. In his first post which was written on 1 August he talks about the work he’s done using the RSC’s Archives, kept at the Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive where they are available for anyone to consult. Some years ago Richard unearthed, among a heap of uncatalogued music, the piece written specially for the 1879 opening of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, a great find and by the look of his posts, just the first of many.
In other posts he’s written about the TOP play Country Dancing, on the subject of Cecil Sharp’s activities in recording country folk songs and dances before they disappeared from memory, about John Wooldridge who after a wartime career flying Lancaster bombers for the RAF wrote the music for the 1951 production of The Tempest, and about Anthony Bernard who was in charge of the music at the theatre between 1932 and 1942. Richard is uncovering fantastic material on a subject that is very much neglected, partly because it is relatively inaccessible, the music itself existing only in manuscript. It’s great to hear the RSC’s music team is trying to improve access to this fascinating part of the history of their productions.
There is also a whole section on the RSC’s website devoted to the company’s musical activities. It’s also great news that the RSC is now recording and issuing the music it performs in its shows, and it seems to me that recently music in the Company’s shows is taking a much more prominent place. More please, Richard!